A grim view of the NHLPA and where the NHL is headed

If you haven’t gotten to following the New York Post’s Larry Brooks by now, it’s tough to say you’re keeping tabs on the NHL very closely. Ever since the NHL stepped up to challenge the NHLPA over Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract, Brooks has been the lone voice amongst team scribes to express what a dire situation this is for the players association. In his column today, he again picks up his journalistic drumsticks and continues the drum beat declaring doom and gloom on the horizon for the NHL and its players this time based around the NHLPA quibbling over attorney costs to fight the Kovalchuk grievance.

Indeed, Slap Shots has learned that union front-office personnel, including Fehr, expressed concern over the cost of attorneys’ fees in the Kovalchuk arbitration before turning to John McCambridge, a Saskin loyalist, who had been part of the 2004-05 negotiating committee but had not been involved in union business in years and who was no match at all for the estimable Bob Batterman, the league’s Crosby/Ovechkin among its stable of all-star lawyers.

It is stunning that Fehr was unable to recognize that the price of victory would be nothing compared to the cost of defeat. It is outrageous that the union would have quibbled over the equivalent of pennies when weighed against the nullification of a $102 million contract of one of its dues-paying, escrow-contributing marquee members.

It is, however, indicative of the headless operation that seems simply to be awaiting the slaughter in the next round of collective bargaining two years hence.

This is what happens when the union spends its resources looking behind and fighting old battles instead of preparing for the future and a new engagement against an all-powerful commissioner who remains ruthlessly committed to his vision of a hard-cap, lowest-common-denominator league.

Cold, harsh words from a writer who is very easily the biggest supporter of the NHLPA in all of the media. While we understand that talking about a potentially ugly labor war two years away from it happening may not be fun to read, nor may it be all that engaging, it’s better to have the discussion out there. Even though it’s a case of millionaires squabbling with billionaires over a Scrooge McDuck-sized pile of money, it cuts to the heart of the matter that this is a sport we all enjoy watching that gets spoiled by wealthy folks fighting over who gets more money and the only people that lose in a labor war are the fans.

After all, it was the fans that missed out watching hockey back in 2004-2005 when the owners locked out the players to crush them in labor negotiations and when they settled on things a year and half later, the fans were promised ticket price rollbacks and all sorts of other things to win them over again. While the game has again been made enjoyable to watch thanks to the league mostly adhering to its own rule book again, making the game cost friendly for fans never came. Ticket prices stayed the same or went up dramatically, the cost of merchandise is higher than it ever was and all this goes on while North America has dealt with an economic crunch that leaves regular folks with less flexible income. Yet here the fans are making sure that attendance is as good as it ever was for the most part. Perhaps we all deserve each other so let’s just forget about that potential labor war in 2012 and just feel free to call each other suckers instead.

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    Gryba sticks with Edmonton on two-year, $1.8 million deal

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    After spending the last two seasons with the Oilers, Eric Gryba has signed on for two more.

    Gryba, the veteran blueliner that was set to go unrestricted on Saturday, has signed a two-year, $1.8 million extension with Edmonton, per TSN. The deal comes after the 29-year-old appeared in 40 games for the Oilers last year, and three during the club’s playoff run.

    Gryba is the second UFA blueliner Edmonton has re-upped with, having previously inked Kris Russell to a four-year, $16 million pact. It’s the byproduct of available cap space GM Peter Chiarelli created by shipping out Jordan Eberle to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome.

    It’s likely Gryba will continue to play his existing role in Edmonton — a physical, hard-nosed depth defenseman that won’t play every night, but can jump into the lineup in case of injury or when the Oilers face a particular matchup.

    This move also gives the Oilers seven defensemen under contract for next season: Gryba, Russell, Andrej Sekera (who could miss extensive time with a torn ACL), Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning and Darnell Nurse.

    So, perhaps Chiarelli isn’t done signing blueliners.

     

     

    Report: Kings in contact with Joe Thornton

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    Yesterday, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported 12 teams were in contact with San Jose’s Joe Thorton who, on Saturday, will become an unrestricted free agent.

    Now, it’s been revealed that one of those teams is also one of San Jose’s biggest rivals — the Los Angeles Kings.

    Per LA Kings Insider, the Kings have “been in contact” with Thornton, who just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M average annual cap hit.

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    On top of Thornton’s abilities are his relationships with key figures in Los Angeles’ front office. He played with Kings General Manager Rob Blake in San Jose, while Senior Advisor to the General Manager/Development Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager when he played in Boston.

    On top of these relationships, Thornton also remains very close with Glen Murray, a figure in Los Angeles’ player development, and I’m told the two, who played together with the Bruins for three and a half seasons, regularly communicate.

    LeBrun reported that staying with the Sharks remains Thornton’s No. 1 option, but it’s pretty clear interest in him is sky-high — and coming from a number of different places.

    Los Angeles has been making moves to clear cap space, recently buying out the remainder of defenseman Matt Greene’s contract. The Kings also lost blueliner Brayden McNabb to Vegas at the expansion draft.

    What happens with Marian Gaborik‘s $4.875M cap hit remains to be seen. The veteran winger underwent an offseason procedure for a “chronic” knee issue and, depending on his recovery, could open the year on long-term injured reserve.

    Thornton would give L.A. a formidable one-two punch at center along with Anze Kopitar (and a truly formidable 1-2-3 punch with Kopitar and Jeff Carter, for that matter). It’s also worth noting that as he’s gotten longer in the tooth, Thornton has successfully platooned as a winger — most notably during San Jose’s Stanley Cup run in 2016.

    Report: Markov wants $12 million over two years from Montreal

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    At the draft, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin said his club had many roster holes.

    Now he knows the cost of filling one.

    Per TVA, veteran blueliner Andrei Markov is seeking a two-year, $12 million extension to stick with the club — one that would carry a $6M cap hit, up slightly from the $5.75M he was making on his previous deal.

    Markov, an unrestricted free agent, is 38 but coming off a pretty productive year — he scored 36 points in just 62 games played, and averaged 21:50 TOI per night.

    His ice time significantly jumped in the playoffs, up to 26:09 in Montreal’s opening-round playoff loss to the Rangers.

    Bergevin has said he’d like to have Markov back, but noted the club has limits. The term of Markov’s reported ask isn’t too unwieldy — it’s a two-year commitment — but the cap hit could be an issue. Remember, Bergevin is also trying to re-sign last year’s second-leading scorer, Alex Radulov. Alex Galchenyuk needs a new deal as well.

    (Unless he’s traded.)

    On top of all this — oh yes, there’s more — is the looming contract extension for Carey Price. The star goalie is heading into the last year of his deal and eligible to sign an extension on July 1, which promises to be a monster contract. Price is currently the NHL’s fifth highest-paid netminder at $7 million per, but could join Sergei Bobrovsky and Henrik Lundqvist as the only goalies to earn more than $8M annually.

    Which brings us back to Markov who, according to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, is representing himself in negotiations. One has to think that dollar figure will come down, especially if Montreal starts entertaining other options — like Karl Alzner, the former Caps d-man who says he’s interested in playing in Montreal.

    Whatever the case, Bergevin is going to have to address this situation soon. There are plenty of moving parts, but rounding out the defense has to be near the top of his priority list. Right now Montreal has just five blueliners under contract: Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Brandon Davidson, Jordie Benn and David Schlemko.

    Alzner wants long-term deal, says he’s interested in Habs

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    You can hardly blame Karl Alzner for wanting to cash in July 1.

    Not that he’s hard up for money or anything, but the last contract Alzner signed in Washington was a club-friendly deal that paid him $11.2 million over four years. That’s a cap hit of just $2.8 million for a guy that plays top-four minutes against tough competition.

    Now an unrestricted free agent, Alzner’s got the opportunity to make much more on the open market.

    He wants some security, too.

    “I will wait to see my options, but I am only 28 years old and I can tell you that I would like to get a long-term contract,” Alzner told Le Journal de Montréal (translated). “It is always attractive for a player to be able to settle in the same city for a long time. It would be my dream to sign a long-term agreement.”

    Alzner added that the Canadiens are an intriguing team that he’d be willing to join. He also said that talks with the Capitals seem to have stalled.

    Related: Alzner meets with Vegas, but will test free agency